The following guide is written by my Dad, Mike. It details how he creates our sourdough bread for market each week. It’s a treat! Enjoy! – court
Mike Meredith, Rabbit Wing Farm
I have been asked to share my recipe for the Sourdough Bread that we sell from the Rabbit Wing Farm stand on Saturdays at the Willoughby Outdoor Market[ii].
Here it is:
1 kilogram (2 lbs. 3 oz.) of unbleached hi-gluten bread flour
3½ cups of water
4 oz. of sourdough starter
1 tablespoon of finely ground sea salt
Yields two 28 ounce loaves
If you can make the Boules pictured above from that recipe, then you have been in the kitchen with me…
Of course there is more to a recipe than the ingredients, it’s about process; mine involves maintaining and preparing a sourdough starter, then using a long rise—no knead—wet dough—hot pot cooking method to produce these dense, tangy, and complex loaves each week.
My process is three days long: for the Saturday market it begins on Wednesday with “freshening” or “feeding”[iii] of the sourdough starter and preserving my starter base through the use of a backup. My starter was purchased from the King Arthur Flour Company[iv]; they state on the label that it is descended from a starter that has been maintained in New England since the 1700’s. There is some debate on the localization of starters[v]. I call mine Ohio Wine Country Sourdough because I believe that my starter has localized through use. The name is derived from geography: Rabbit Wing Farm[vi] is located in the Grand River Valley appellation of Ohio’s most productive and best wine growing region[vii]. The same reason why San Francisco Sourdough flavor can only be found in San Francisco.
Pictured above is my freshening set-up. The jar on the left is my production jar for the current week’s baking; the jar on the right is the backup I start new each week—the backup batch becomes the production batch for the following week—the unused portion of the production batch is discarded. On Wednesday morning I take the backup jar out of the refrigerator and feed it by adding water and unbleached all purpose flour. I let the freshened mixture sit out until I see good bubbling action, usually an hour or two depending upon ambient conditions.
My starter is maintained at 100% hydration[viii], meaning that for every ounce of flour added there is an ounce of water. Once the newly freshened starter has warmed and started bubbling, I separate out 4 oz. of starter and place it into a clean jar; to that jar I add 4 oz. of bottled water (ours is a local spring water that has been purified through reverse osmosis), and 4 oz. of unbleached all purpose flour. I stir to mix and then let it sit out for an hour or two until there is bubbling action—I then put it in the fridge as my new backup jar.
To my production jar I add 8 oz. of water, 8 oz. of flour, mix, let it sit until bubbling and then refrigerate.
Preparing a batch of dough:
The dough slowly rises over 12 to 18 hours; it can be longer if you wish a more sour flavor (for a longer rising period cut the amount of starter in half).
The day begins with attention to the starter, I get the production jar out of the fridge and freshen it with 4 oz. each of flour and water and let it sit for a few hours before using. I make twelve loaves so I need to build up a large quantity of starter–six batches, 24 ounces of starter total.
I measure out 4 oz. of the starter. To the glob I add 2½ cups of water and whisk.
(Clockwise from upper left, 1-4)
1) I begin the dough by weighing out the flour: 1000 grams (1 kilogram*) or 2lbs. 3 oz. if you like. Weighing of ingredients is essential—if you don’t have a scale—don’t bother baking bread. Separate out 1 cup of the flour and set it aside, then add 1 tablespoon of finely ground sea salt (I use a pink salt labeled “Real Salt” from the local Amish store), and mix it in the remaining flour.
2) Next, add the set aside cup of flour to the starter mixture and whisk.
3) Then combine the starter mixture to the flour and salt mixture and stir with a spatula.
4) In picture 3 you see a cup of water; after the starter mixture (4oz. starter, 2½ cups water, 1 cup flour) is stirred in, it will be clumpy, add in the remaining cup of water and stir until the dough is smooth like a batter. This is a very wet dough/batter: the no-knead method kicks in here[ix]. Cover with Saran wrap or foil and let it rise for 12 to 18 hours.
*Measuring in grams or kilograms is a holdover from my first real French bread recipe: ‘a la The Frugal Gourmet[x].
Somewhere between 12 and 18 hours the dough will have risen sufficiently to form into loaves. The beauty of this wet dough/long rise method for me how is how forgiving it is on timing: I have not gone past 18 hours of rise time, so I can’t speak to that, but unlike quick-rise yeast recipes where loaves have literally run out of gas and failed to rise after the loaves have formed, this dough remains alive and active.
(Clockwise from upper left, 1-4)
Steps before baking:
1) Covered dough after first rise (I use clear glass plates rater than plastic wrap or foil because they work and are reusable).
2) The dough is very wet, so when poured from the bowel it must be well dusted with flour for handling (I add enough so that the dough is dry to the touch). This is a no-knead process, so I just pat it out flat, then fold it in to form a ball.
3) I weigh the dough (this recipe produces around 1900 grams, or 1.9 kilograms. Pictured above is the dough weight after splitting for the two loaves).
4) Finished loaves ready for the second rise—the weigh around 950 grams, just under two pounds combined flour, water, starter and salt weight. Note that the loaves are well dusted top and bottom and are placed on flexible cutting boards. They are then covered in plastic and allowed to rise two hours before baking.
Clockwise from upper left, 1-4:
1) After two hours the loaves are ready for baking.
2) Pictured are ceramic soufflé dishes that have just been removed from the oven pre-heated to 485 degrees for at least 45 minutes (I start the oven with the dishes in it). The pre-heat is by time to make sure all oven and baking surfaces are at temperature (pre-heat timers are only a measure of the oven air temperature). I use 7½ inch diameter by 4 inch tall ceramic soufflé dishes[xi] to bake my Boules in, other Dutch oven type vessels can be used.
3) I use the flexible cutting boards so that I can roll the loaves off the boards and drop them directly into the hot soufflé dishes.
4) Once the loaves are in the dishes, I cover them with aluminum foil, put them in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Get some really good oven mitts for this process!
1) After 30 minutes the foil is removed—baking continues for 8 minutes
2) After 8 minutes, dishes are rotated front to back—baking continues for 7 minutes
3) Completed baking—loaves transferred to cooling racks.
My methods are for the production of many loaves on one baking day each week, so for single batch production you don’t need to follow these instructions exactly, for instance:
Baking dishes: from my experience the best baking vessel for this method (wet dough—hot pot) is a Le Creuset 3½ quart cast iron, enamel coated Dutch oven which has similar dimensions to the soufflé dishes I use. I have used a Le Creuset and have also used an old Club Aluminum Dutch oven. Cast iron or ceramic Dutch ovens can also be used—the important features are a thick wall that will tolerate and hold high heat and that is comes with a domed lid that seals properly. This type of vessel and method produce a great crust because for the first half-hour of baking the lid seals in the moisture. Foil on the ceramic dishes does the same, but honestly I believe that some crust quality is lost in my multi-loaf production method. If I could afford three more Le Creuset Dutch ovens I would use them, but at $12.95 the soufflé dishes work just fine.
Wet dough—Hot pot:
This method works well for me and for similar reasons I use the yeast-based method of this for my baguettes: fool proof rising, great crust and a more complex taste. Keep in mind that sourdough (microbial leavening) is the oldest leavening method[xii], but is just that—a leavening method—it can be incorporated into any type of dough from pizza to waffles, so you don’t have to stick to the entire way I make sourdough bread[xiii].
I hope you find this helpful, if you have any questions, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.